Trans fluid question for 88 Honda Civic

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I just introduced myself should anyone be curious. I've got temporary custody of an 1988 Honda Civic 4door which I am trying to sell. It's an automatic transmission, 170K miles.
So I have only been driving it for a couple of weeks, and I think this problem started a week or so ago? It makes a clunking noise when I shift gears, most noticeably from park to reverse and kind of shudders at the same time. As this is a pretty rattlely old car I didn't really notice..I know, it's probably because I sing at the top of my lungs the entire time I am driving:) But I have come to my senses now.
I checked the transmission fluid an it was, ahem, empty.
My questions-
1. The Haines manual at my local Auto Zone library (i don't have the car's driver's manual) specified Dexron II trans fluid, which appears to be unavailable. Is Dexron III the replacement for Dexron II?

2. Valvoline makes a Dexron III formulated for high mileage cars, It has some addititives to protect seals or something, would you reccommend this?

3. I have heard that flushing the trans fluid in old cars isn't a good idea. Is there enough sediment left in the resevoir that when I add all new fluid to it the trans won't slip?

4. In case you haven't figured out by now that I don't know much about cars this should confirm your suspicions-
What's up with the words transmission and transaxle? Is the latter mostly out of use?

5. Any additional advice pertaining to this problem is also appreciated.

I am a generally intellegent person, I just don't have that much experience with cars. I appreciate your time and advice.

posted by  sockmonkey

Dexron III can be used as a replacement for Dexron II

Transmissions and transaxles (trannys to those of us who don't like to type) have some implications - transmissions used to mean a transmission assembly similar to those found in rear wheel drive cars. Transaxles are transmissions /differentials/drive axles in one package and are found in FWD cars.

Dont know anything about Valvolines high milage Dexron III

Probably ought to figure out where the tranny fluid is going

posted by  tbaxleyjr

I'll keep an eye out for visible leaks. Who knows how long it's been since someone checked the tranny fluid on this car though.

If you care to indulge my curiosity further, I saw the same model with manual transaxle used moter oil for tranny fluid. Why? I've only ever heard of that with Hondas which is mostly why I looked up the specs to begin with.

posted by  sockmonkey

The automatic transmiision uses its fluid for lubrication, as well as for centrifugal force in the part called the torque converter ( in your car, this is the hemisphere looking thing that is connecting the transmission to the engine. ) The more the engine spins, the more fluid is reaching one of the resevoirs in the torque converter, it then shifts the gears more or less. So it is a thickness closer to water than motor oil. Its often hooked up through two small tubes to the radiator for cooling.

Ok the manual transaxle uses gear oil most commonly. Like 75-90w usually. It usually has no cooling lines so the oil gets hotter I would say. Some do use regular motor oil though.

If your automatic transaxle is leaking, most likely it is through the pan and gasket on the bottom. You can change the filter and gasket with one ratchet. Fairly easy. I recomend doing it yourself. You will see how dirty the fluid is there and the filter.

I have never heard that it is bad to clean the fluid from an automatic transmission..... I cannot think of any reason why it should be.

You see in an old engine sometimes deposits form near the rings that prevent the oil from leaking through. Other places as well.

And automatic transmission has no such benefits from deposits. Right now they are just metal particles that are wearing down the gears more. So far as I know at least. I would syphon out all of the transmission fluid personally...

posted by  stamar

I am with you on this one - I hear scuttlebutt about it being bad to change tranny fluid if it hasn't been changed before - I cant find any engineering or other technical reason to understand the basis behind the rumor. Probably, changing the fluid may have uncovered other issues which needed addressed anyway for other reasons and the fluid got blamed???

posted by  tbaxleyjr

I found this related post by buddycraigg in the archives-didn't know how to link it-

"Changing tranny fluid every 30,000 miles. Good idea.
Changing tranny fluid in a car that is starting to develop shifting /slipping problems. Bad idea.

I don’t know the history of your car as I am new here, but I will tell you the common story.

Guy with 130,000 mile car, “my tranny is starting to slip.”
Well meaning person, “maybe you should change the dirty fluid and change the filter”
Guy, “good idea.”

2 hours and 3 beers later…
Guy, “my tranny is slipping.”
Person, “did you change the fluid?”
Guy, “yep”
Person, “that sucks, sorry.”

Was the well meaning person wrong? No. you need to change your tranny fluid.
Was it going to solve your problem of the slipping tranny? No. your tranny was already dead.

The reason the sudden death occurred?
The old dirty fluid had particles of the friction disk suspended it in. Making it have friction properties, allowing the clutch packs to hold.
Once clean fluid was in there the clutch packs couldn’t hold the torque and would start to slip.
After they start to slip the fiber becomes hot from friction and either totally comes apart or glazes over. Resulting in complete slippage. You may be able to drive a little bit longer if you use Chrysler type 4 or Hyundai tranny fluid as they both have friction qualities.

Since your tranny has a lot of it’s functions controlled by a computer it is possible that there is a sensor or electric-mechanical malfunction. But from your complaint I would suspect that is not the case.

What’s worse is Saturn and Hyundai are the only cars I have ever seen with a spin on tranny filter, making it very easy to do an oil change.

What a shame people do not keep up with their regular maintenance.

good luck


This is bascically what I had heard before. So assuming this is true, ya'll are right that it is merely covering up tranny problems, but it seems like it might not be a good idea in an old dinged up car that isn't worth trannsmission work if it might hang on a little longer(?). I've got 170K here.

Anyways, thanks alot for the info. I'll be around.


posted by  sockmonkey

Well this is a word of mouth recommendation.

I have never heard this definitely.

I have seen so many transmissions, old ones, miraculously heal from changing the fluid, like really changing it as in dropping the pan 4 times in a week or vacuuming it, that I always recomend it.

If nothing else think of this, the transmission is tuned to shift based on a weight of fluid spinning. So as the fluid gets thicker, it quite naturally shifts later.

The most common transmission failure I have run across is definitely caused by corrosion, the torque converter chambers eventually will just rust right through and miss shift killing the transmission quickly. So in this case, the longer you wait the worse it is. Corrosion is hampering its effecient shifting right now in your transmission, the channels to each section of the torque converter are no clogged requireing more pressure, causing it to miss shift.

However, I will look into some sources on clutch packs to see what it says. Give me a few days at least.

posted by  stamar

Well I have found at least one source that agrees with your not changing the fluid theory so there must be some truth to it....

So I suppose you should not change your fluid if it has been neglected.

The thing is , if it made it to 170k miles Im sure it was maintained. If just you have abused it I would still get on it and get teh stuff out of there.

Only if it is already slipping should you give up on it.

posted by  stamar

sounds to me if it is already slipping, you are screwed and are going to end up getting the thing serviced or rebuilt anyway

posted by  tbaxleyjr

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